By William Letwin
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Extra resources for Against Equality: Readings on Economic and Social Policy
Sophisticated, or rather sophistical, objections may be raised to this' natural' view. It might be said, for one thing, that a larger income is not really better for the recipient than a smaller income. Such an assertion would rest, presumably, on some variant of the primitive idea that 'money isn't everything'. Yet giving full credit to this notion, issue could still be joined by positing a hypothetical measure of 'satisfaction' or 'happiness', and asking whether a community in which half of its members enjoyed 5000 units of happiness per year and the other half 10,000 units of happiness ought to be rationally preferred to a community in which every member enjoyed only 5000 units of 26 THE CASE AGAINST EQUALITY LETWIN happiness.
It becomes immediately apparent that to do this would contradict equality of total consum ption and of total satisfaction. As to practical implementation: a government following this policy would be obliged to assess the true extent of each person's needs. The technical difficulty, indeed impossibility, of doing so does not require close demonstration; suffice it to say that the armies of different nations evidently hold quite varied views about the 'needs' of the soldiers whom they provision. Nor is it any answer to say, as some do, that 'needs' are 'culturally determined'; for this is to concede that 'needs' cannot be discerned by scientific knowledge, which means that they can only be determined by arbitrary discretion, exercised either by persons in authority or by respondents to publicopinion polls.
At equalised annual pay of £5000, each member of a family of four in which the husband and wife both worked could afford to consume £2500 worth of goods and services, whereas the members of a family of four with only one member working could each afford to consume only £1250. This inequality of consumption potential, generated within a regime of equal pay, would of course reach its extremes in families on the one hand, in which all of the members worked, and in those, on the other hand, in which none the members worked.
Against Equality: Readings on Economic and Social Policy by William Letwin